Home Cookin'

If You Bring Home Enough Bacon, Shirley Ann Gibson Whip It Into Something Delicious.

By Rebecca Cook

AFTER 12 YEARS working in the kitchen at El Conquistador, Shirley Ann Gibson believed she was ready for a change. Although the experience she garnered as a member of first the pastry line and later the banquet coterie was invaluable, Gibson couldn't help but feel it was time for a career shift.

Taking on the nursery at the resort's country club seemed an appealing alternative at the time, but before long, the sense that something was missing from her life began to gnaw at her.

Chow "I missed cooking," Gibson says simply.

Resolved that she didn't want to go back to doing the same old thing, Gibson kept a sharp eye for other culinary possibilities. Almost by accident, she stumbled across an article about personal chefs in a women's magazine. The article described a developing industry and also provided information about an organization in Albuquerque, N.M., called the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA), which could provide guidance, support and assistance for anyone wishing to start their own service. A phone call later, Gibson's new business, Someone's In My Kitchen, was on its way to becoming a reality.

She describes her enterprise as not so much as a catering service as a reinvention of the home-cooked meal.

"There are a lot of people out there who love good food but who get tired of going out to restaurants all the time," Gibson says. "But due to jobs and other commitments, they don't have time to cook. This is a service especially for those people."

Beginning with an interview of prospective clients, and the completion of a lengthy food questionnaire (designed to elicit information about likes, dislikes, diet restrictions and food allergies), Gibson then compiles a tentative menu, which is later sent to the client for review and final approval. Once the details have been worked out, Someone's In My Kitchen goes to work.

Software provided by the USPCA automatically provides a shopping list and selected recipes once the menu has been entered into Gibson's home computer. Included in the recipes is a listing of all the equipment needed to prepare each dish--important information since Gibson hauls along her own equipment to each new job.

Gibson rises before dawn, shopping list in hand, and heads off to the grocery store to select the freshest and best ingredients she can find. Sometime around 8 a.m., she arrives at her client's house ready to spend the next eight hours hustling and bustling around the kitchen. The first night's meal will be ready and waiting by the time the client walks through the door after work. The rest of the meals (Someone's In My Kitchen provides five meals of four servings each) are packaged and placed in the freezer for later use. The kitchen is clean and tidy. No mess, no fuss, no bother, and no more jockeying for position in the express line at the grocery store. What luxury!

Such personal service, however, does not come cheap. Costs vary with individual menus, but an average price is $14.75 per serving, Gibson says. This translates into roughly $300 a visit. Depending on family size, individual appetites and personal cooking schedules (not to mention financial status), Gibson's services might be contracted for anywhere from once a week to once every couple of months.

Gibson admits she serves a select clientele--"the kind of people who tend to have housekeepers, yardmen and personal dog groomers," she says; but if you ever wanted to splurge on yourself or someone else, Someone's In My Kitchen is an incredible deal.

"We do a lot of gift certificates for people who've just gotten out of the hospital or had a new baby," she says, adding that this holiday season she even had requests from out-of-town offspring who wanted to give their elderly parents a break from the usual kitchen routine and typical fare.

Certainly there's nothing ordinary about week's worth of sustenance from Someone's In My Kitchen. A five-meal rundown might sound something like this: chicken and sausage gumbo served with white rice and tossed green salad; lamb curry with vegetable couscous; cheese enchiladas and refried beans; Mediterranean turkey scallops with vermicelli and crisp Italian bread; and roast beef Wellington with horseradish sauce, fresh green beans and tossed green salad. When was the last time a solid week's dinner plan read like that?

No wonder Someone's In My Kitchen, which operates almost solely by word-of-mouth, is catching on fast.

Gibson even does her best to accommodate requests to cook up clients' favorite family recipes. If diet restrictions threaten to interfere with personal tastes, she says that with the help of her computer she can even "tweak" the recipes a bit to achieve more acceptable nutritional values, such as a lower fat content.

Regulars will find that their menus and entrée items are never the same, unless an encore performance of a particular dish is requested. Culling through thousands of recipes from the USPCA as well as her own files, Gibson attempts to keep everything new and exciting.

Since she does all her own cooking, there's an obvious limit to how many clients she can serve at one time. Fortunately, she's joined with two other entrepreneurs in the personal chef trade to help meet a growing demand for service. Gibson met fellow Tucsonans Alayne Reed of the Laughing Kookaburra, and Charles Harding of the Blue Mountain Personal Chef Service, at a USPCA conference this past summer. Together, they formed a local chapter of the organization and worked out a way to provide important back-up and support for each other.

"If I get a request for service on the far eastside," says Gibson, a northwest Tucson resident, "I refer them to Chuck or Alayne, who are more centrally located. In turn, they do the same for me."

Although it hasn't yet been necessary, the others are also available to help out if one is sick or has a family emergency. The cooperative nature of this arrangement might seem to run counter to traditional marketplace competition, but Gibson says there are currently so many requests for personal chef services, there's more than enough to go around.

"In fact, if there's anyone out there who's interested in becoming a personal chef, there's plenty of work out there," she adds with a laugh. q

Shirley Ann Gibson and Someone's In My Kitchen can be reached by phone at 744-3873 or 907-9452; by fax at 744-3836; or by e-mail at gibson15@flashnet.com.

For general information about personal chef services, contact the United States Personal Chef Association at 1-505-899-4223, or visit their website at http://www.uspca.com. TW

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